What makes the death UNIQUE?
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What is it that makes Christ's death the supreme sacrifice above all other humans? Many people have been martyred and suffered, some that at least outwardly seem more excruciating than Christ on the cross. Have you ever thought about why Christ's sacrifice on the cross made such a significant impact on the disciples and early Christians?
The disciples spent approximately three years with Christ. They traveled together day and night. They witnessed His commitment and dedication to His Father and to the work He was sent to perform. They were taught personally by Him and heard Him preach to both large and small groups of people. They witnessed His tremendous miracles and His consistent, unwavering faith in the truth of God. In spite of all this, three years later at the "Last Supper" they were still a group of greedy, carnal, self-seeking men. It would be the death of their friend and Savior, however, that would completely transform them.
After Christ died the disciples abandoned their self-interest, selfish ambition and competition. They became willing to be spent and to die for their Savior and for the work of God.
Mary holding a dead Jesus
The disciples "turned the world upside down" because of what the cross of Christ meant to them. Why did Paul say,
"But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14)
"For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1Corinthians 2:2).
What was it about the death of Christ that made such a major impact on them and brought a total transformation in their personal resolve? I believe that if we find the answer to that question the church will never be the same again. Like the early Church, we can be so totally transformed because of our profound understanding of the total sacrifice that Christ made that we can never again be casual or complacent about our relationship with Christ and His sacrifice on the cross.
Was the physical pain Jesus felt on the cross unique to him? The thieves on the crosses near him suffered longer than he did, plus they had the added pain of their legs being broken while they were still alive. During the Jewish revolt in 70 A.D. the Romans were crucifying somewhere between 50 to 70 Jews per day. What is there about the crucifixion of Christ that makes it so unique? Let us go to the Bible and see how the Jews looked at the cross. This information will help us to understand why the death of Christ was very different.
What did the Jews cry out for crucifixion?
The reason why the Jews and their leaders cried out for Jesus' crucifixion is found in Deuteronomy 21. The Jews did not want him simply to die. They had something far worse for Him than merely dying on a Roman cross. They had Deuteronomy 21 in mind when they cried out "crucify Him." Notice:
"If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; FOR HE WHO IS HANGED IS ACCURSED OF GOD." (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
If one had committed a crime worthy of death and the judge sentenced him to die, that man, as he was stoned, could still go down on his knees before he died and ask God to forgive him for what he had done. Then he would have forgiveness and hope. But if the judge said, "After you die you are to be hung on a tree," that meant to the Jew the irrevocable curse of God, which to us would be the unpardonable sin or the second death. They considered it to be the loss of someone's life FOREVER.
Remember, the Jews did not believe in an immortal soul. The immortal soul doctrine is a Greek concept that crept into the "Christian" church and which unfortunately has robbed the cross of it's full impact as well. To the Jews death meant cessation of life, not merely the separation of the body from the soul. The Jews did believe in a resurrection, however. The unpardonable sin or the curse of God was good-bye to life forever, because in the curse God abandons the person. He who is the source of life, the source of security, the source of hope is gone. That is what Jews understood the curse to mean.
When they cried out "Crucify Him", they were not only asking for Christ to be killed, they were asking God to bring His CURSE down upon Him. This had to happen for the scripture to be fulfilled and for the debt for all sin to be paid.
Was he CURSED of God?
Did God the Father CURSE Jesus as the Jews wanted? Did God fulfill their request and CURSE His only Son? The answer is YES! Romans 8 states:
"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all . . ." (Romans 8:32)
But God did not bring His wrath or curse upon Christ for blasphemy but for another reason. What is that reason? Let's notice how Paul explains it from a Jewish perspective. Galatians 3 says:
"For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse . . ." (Galatians 3:10)
The phrase, "works of the law," in the New Testament is equivalent to our English word, "legalism". When you see this phrase it always means keeping the law in order to be saved; not as the evidence or fruits of salvation but as a means of salvation. Keep that in mind.
Paul is saying, "Anyone who is trying to earn salvation or eternal life by keeping the law is under the curse". Why? The apostle Paul gives us the answer:
"for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.' " (Galatians 3:10).
In other words, if you want to be saved through the law you have to observe it in every detail and continually. If you ever miss on one point you come under the curse.
The fact is that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23). There is not one single, solitary person who has kept the law perfectly, other than Christ. All Christians are sinners saved by grace. Notice carefully this next verse in Galatians:
"Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse FOR US . . ." (Galatians 3:13).
And it was God the Father who made Him a curse, for He "did not spare His own Son" (Romans 8:32) for us. Three times Jesus pleaded with the Father: "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me . . ." (Luke 22:42). The cup Christ was referring to was not simply death on the cross. He hardly felt that pain compared to the anguish to which He was referring. It was the curse of God against your sins and mine that Christ pleaded God to remove. He knew what it meant to be cursed by God.
But God's will was to not remove that curse. Do you know why? It was because He loved us:
"He who DID NOT SPARE HIS OWN SON, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)
Whenever you read in the New Testament about the cross being equated with the tree remember those Jews did not mean a stake. When the Jews mentioned that He hung on a tree they were not referring to whether it was a stake or two pieces of wood. That was not the issue. To them hanging on a cross was equivalent to hanging on a tree; the curse.
After the disciples witnessed what Christ did for us on the cross they were no longer timid about standing and preaching the gospel. In Acts 5 the disciples were taken by the Sanhedrin and punished, flogged and told to no longer preach in Jesus' name. But Peter and the other apostles said "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). What a change! Here are the disciples ready to die for Christ. The same Peter who denied Christ before the crucifixion is now willing to die for Him. That is how much this event changed him. Note verse 30:
"The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree." (Acts 5:30).
Peter was saying, "You brought God's curse on Him, but God raised Him up because He did not commit blasphemy; He did experience the curse for our sins. Christ died that He may save us from our sins. He rose that we might be glorified."
What was paid for?
Peter later elaborates a bit more about what it meant for Jesus to be hung on a tree:
"who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness . . ." (1Peter 2:24)
Why did he use the word "tree" and not the "cross"? Because he was thinking about the curse and not simply the first death that ALL humans must experience. But some may argue, "How could Christ die a second time? He predicted His resurrection, and He actually rose the third day. How could He experience it?" The Bible says in Hebrews 2:
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, MIGHT TASTE DEATH FOR EVERYONE." (Hebrews 2:9)
It could not be the first death because believers who accept Christ still have to die. Paul says in 2Timothy that Jesus, through the cross:
" . . .but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has ABOLISHED DEATH and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel . . ." (2Timothy 1:10)
If He abolished death why do Christians die? Because He abolished only the SECOND one, not the first. Revelation 20:6 shows that those who have part in the first resurrection (e.g. believers) will not die a second time. Why? Because there was one who was willing to taste it and go through it for us.
Did he give up being GOD?
In order to more fully comprehend the sacrifice Jesus made for us we needed to understand the following Bible verses in Philippians 2:
"who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death . . ." (Philippians 2:6-8)
When Christ became a man in the incarnation He had to give up not only His Divinity, but His divine prerogatives. In other words, Christ gave up His independent use of His divinity. Even His "God consciousness" had to be given up. Jesus discovered He was God only by revelation.
He was not "God conscious" as a baby. He had to grow up in knowledge. He had to grow up in everything because He had given up the independent use of His divinity and was made in all things like unto us (Hebrews 2:17). Because of this He was totally dependent on God through His earthly ministry. Jesus said in John 5:
"I can of Myself do nothing. " (John 5:30)
In John 6 he also stated:
"As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father . . ." (John 6:57)
See also John 8:28 and 14:10.
All these verses disclose clearly that Christ was totally God-dependent. Jesus did not make these statements just to appear humble and meek. They were all TRUE. In fact, he was fully dependent on the Father to raise him from the dead because He had surrendered His "will" to the Father:
"Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead BY THE GLORY OF THE FATHER . . ." (Romans 6:4)
" . . . and what is the exceeding greatness of His (God's) power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead . . ." (Ephesians 1:19-20)
Did he experience the FULL wrath of God?
Do you know what the Father did on the cross? Christ cried out: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). What He meant was not "why are you leaving me for three days?" but, "Why have you abandoned me?" Do you know what that meant to Christ? It meant that the hope of the resurrection went with that abandonment. When the Father forsook Him, in terms of Christ's feelings and emotions, then the hope of the resurrection went with it. Jesus was now "treading the wine press alone". He could no longer look on the Father with hope and assurance as far as His feelings were concerned. He felt the agony of God - abandonment - which is exactly what the wicked will feel when God's mercy no longer pleads with the conscience of guilty man.
There has been no other human being on earth who has really, fully, experienced the wrath of God as Christ did. He is the only man who has felt the fullness of God-abandonment, which is the equivalent of the second death. The issue He faced was not merely holding on to His will power and saying, "I'll hold on for a few hours or a few days". That is no sacrifice for a God who lives in eternity. The issue was losing life forever, never again to see His Father, never again to return to heaven. It meant to give up His glory, to give up His life. That was the issue. That is the curse of God. And that is what Christ endured in terms of His emotional experience.
As He hung there on the cross, Jesus had to make a choice. He could not save Himself and the world at the same time. And He did make the supreme choice. He chose to die eternally that you and I might live in His place. That is what transformed the disciples. They were so shocked! They had not understood such love before. It was the reality of AGAPE love that turned the world upside down. The Word not only came down for thirty three years, but was willing to lose His life forever that they may live in His place:
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
In Hebrews 2 we read that Jesus did what he did so that he:
"might taste death for everyone." (Hebrews 2:9)
The Greek word translated "everyone" in Hebrews 2:9 (Strong's Concordance #G3956) actually means everyTHING. Christ tasted death for every thing. When Adam sinned not only did the curse come on the human race but on the plants and animals and everything:
"Then to Adam He (God) said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': "Cursed is the GROUND for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life." " (Genesis 3:17-18).
When the Roman soldiers put the crown of thorns on Christ's head, they were doing it out of mockery. But God takes the foolish things of men and uses them for a purpose. Those thorns and thistles placed on Christ's head symbolized the curse of sin on the world and showed the sacrifice He made to also "heal" this earth when He sets up the Kingdom of God at His second appearing. With this information God has freely given us about the supreme sacrifice which He and Jesus Christ made for us, the question is: WHAT SHOULD BE OUR RESPONSE? The apostle Paul gives us the answer:
"and He died for all, that those who live (because of the cross) SHOULD LIVE NO LONGER FOR THEMSELVES, but for Him who died for them and rose again." (2Corinthians 5:15).
It is my prayer that you and I will appreciate Christ to the point that we will give everything to Him. When we do this, God will use us to turn this world upside down with the power of the cross of Christ.